Tony Chan To Head NSF’s Math/Physical Sciences Directorate

July 6, 2006

Tony Chan, dean of physical sciences and professor of mathematics at UCLA, will put his talents as both researcher and administrator to work at a national level beginning this fall. On October 1, he begins a term as assistant director for mathematical and physical sciences (MPS) at the National Science Foundation. In announcing the appointment, NSF director Arden Bement praised the search committee for its perspicacity, pointing to Chan's "extraordinary record as a scientist and an administrator." UCLA will "miss his energy, enthusiasm, and leadership," said chancellor Albert Carnesdale, citing in particular Chan's "strong commitment to interdisciplinary research."

SIAM concurs on all counts. Chan began his second term on the SIAM Board of Trustees this year, and he has been an energetic member of the Committee on Science Policy since 2000. Many readers of SIAM News will remember plenary talks he has given at SIAM meetings. Recently, his interests have centered on the imaging sciences; he is the author, with Jianhong (Jackie) Shen, of the 2005 SIAM book Image Processing and Analysis.

Along with imaging, Chan lists his current research interests as computational and applied mathematics, multiscale methods, and computer graphics and computer vision. He has been a member of the editorial boards of two SIAM journals: SIAM Review (1989–98) and SIAM Journal on Computing (1987–2000).

"While realizing that the extent of Tony's involvement in SIAM will almost surely have to decrease," says SIAM executive director James Crowley, "we look forward to working with him in the bigger arena to which he has so much to contribute." With the CSP in particular, Crowley says, "he will be interacting in a different capacity."

At NSF, Chan will be in a position that is rarely occupied by a mathematician. MPS, one of NSF's six research directorates, is made up of five divisions: astronomy, chemistry, materials science, the mathematical sciences, and physics. As NSF pointed out in announcing the appointment, Chan will "guide and manage research funding totaling approximately $1 billion a year." Chan's interdisciplinary interests should serve him well, as should his central role in the creation, in 2000, while he was chair of the mathematics department, of the NSF-supported Institute for Pure and Applied Mathematics at UCLA. As director of IPAM in 2000–01, Chan guided the still-new institute through a crucial formative period.

Responding to questions from SIAM News while traveling in Asia, Chan expressed guarded optimism about two important aspects of his new position. The first is the American Competitiveness Initiative, which, he wrote, "at least gives hope of increased funding for MPS in general."

As to his research and the impending interruption facing it, he described "the personal tradeoff in research time" as the most difficult part of his decision to go to NSF. "Ultimately," he wrote, "it is the call of national service, the unique opportunity (once in a lifetime really) and potential for real impact which drew me to accept. It's truly a privilege to be put in this position." NSF has made provisions for him to make monthly trips back to UCLA to interact with his research group, as well as to connect him to his research colleagues via a video-conferencing setup. "We'll see how that will work out in practice," he concluded.

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